Saturday, 10 February 2007

Linux in the Workplace: It's Here, There and Everywhere

My first article discussed how easy it was to set up Linux on my work desktop. In this article, I'll explain how you can help colleagues switch to Linux.

I'd been using Linux at home since about 2001 and much preferred it to XP. So, when our company purchased new desktop machines for us just over a year ago, I couldn't resist the opportunity. As soon as my machine was ready, I downloaded the latest Kubuntu install disk and set to work.

I finished the installation as normal, rebooted and got ready for my KDE login. What I got was somewhat different. No UI, just thrown back to the command prompt. It turned out that the default ATI driver didn't work with the ATI graphics card in the machine. I updated the xorg configuration file to use the vesa driver and got the UI started. Shortly after that, I noticed the performance monitors were only recognising one CPU. The machines had a dual core AMD processor. Again, this was easy to fix. Simply install the latest SMP kernel and reboot. However, I was realising pretty quickly that none of my colleagues would ever switch to Linux if they had face these issues. Their setup had to be trivial.

The solution was clear. Everything would have to be documented. We run an excellent internal Wiki that contains lots of useful information. This was an ideal place to set up a Linux section. Every single step that was needed to have a fully functional Linux desktop would be documented here. I started with details of how to set up the correct graphic drivers and kernel. This information was to be used by I.S. Anyone who wanted a Linux desktop would leave it with our I.S. department. I.S. would install Kubuntu and follow the instructions on the Wiki to have it functioning properly.

After that, it was a matter of setting up the applications correctly. Each user would do this themselves. I wrote sections on the Wiki about:

  1. How to use Kontact with MS Exchange for email, calendaring and contacts.
  2. How to install applications and tools.
  3. How to connect remotely using FreeNx.
  4. How to set up printers
  5. How to use Samba
and much more. Everything was in place for anyone who wanted to use Linux.

A few months went by before the first brave soul took the plunge. He got his machine up and running fairly quickly and has been using it ever since. Then, another few months and another convert. This one was really interesting. He was using XP on his T43 laptop. After installing wireless drivers, his machine ground to a halt. It was taking 10 minutes just to boot and became totally unusable. He installed Kubuntu, which detected his wireless card properly and the machine now runs smoothly. Two others are thinking of installing Kubuntu as well.

Colleagues who have made the switch have started contributing their own articles to the Wiki e.g. Installing JBoss, Oracle, GNOME, etc. Our office has approximately 15 people. In the space of one year, we have gone from zero Linux desktops to 20%. The people who are using Linux now are very happy with it.

In summary, if you want people to use Linux in the workplace, you have to make it easy for them to get started. Follow these steps to ease the pain for them and you:
  1. Do it yourself first. It's up to you to prove that Linux can be successful on the work desktop. Install it and work through any issues before you get others involved.
  2. Document Everything. It doesn't have to be on a Wiki. It could simply be a plain text document that you share on a server.
  3. Be patient. Take time to answer questions and solve problems.
Finally and most importantly: ENJOY IT!

7 comments:

Warner said...

I really enjoyed your story and what you did.

What I think would make a great followup(s) would be some of the perpectives of the switchers in your office.

what they thought about Linux before they thought about switching.

concerns about the switch

pain points in windows or linux

what they like best obout Linux, miss most about windows.

anything else they would want to share

nice work

warner

warner said...

I really enjoyed your story and what you did.

What I think would make a great followup(s) would be some of the perpectives of the switchers in your office.

what they thought about Linux before they thought about switching.

concerns about the switch

pain points in windows or linux

what they like best obout Linux, miss most about windows.

anything else they would want to share

nice work

warner

Anonymous said...

I also tried moving to linux. Here are my stories.

- I installed ubuntu on my home PC. I just installed a new 250GB drive so I chose to install ubuntu on this drive. After ubuntu finished installing, I rebooted, then got a linux boot error. I found the reason was linux failed to boot because I forgot to set the BIOS to enable the drive.

- Another thing was when the ubuntu installer installed the grub bootloader, it sets ubuntu as the default OS. Since my wife also uses this PC, I did not want ubuntu as the default OS. I had to google how to set XP back as the default OS for grub. It would be nice if the ubuntu installer gave me a choice.

- My wife uses epeachtree.com. So I tried to access this using linux. Unfortunately this webapp does not support firefox. It only works with IE.

So linux is a decade old. Unfortunately it still has many growing pains in order to attract the mainstream home consumer (Such as my mom or dad). Luckily I work in the software industry, so I can tinker with linux.

Anonymous said...

Actually Linux isn't a decade old. epeachtree.com is a decade old. I'm not saying not to use the website, but I'm pointing out that blame should be placed where it is deserved. Any website that does not support firefox or any modern browser is simply old school. That is not the fault of linux. You would have the same problem on windows if you chose to use firefox rather than the old bug and virus infested Internet Explorer.

mdawkins said...

Try ie4linux http://www.tatanka.com.br/ies4linux/page/Main_Page for your Internet Explorer woes on linux. I do some webpage design and I use it for verification. Also, there is an useragent switch extension for Firefox that allows you to change the browser information sent to the webpage.

I'm not trying to be rude, but distros like Ubuntu actually make it possible to install multiple OS on a computer where as Windows is the inflexible OS that doesn't recognize anything else.

The growing pain will be the home user realizing that removing Windows from the PC is probably the best solution instead of trying to dual boot.

As a person that has one parent completely converted to Mandriva 2007 and loving the killer applications that F/OSS has to offer and not trying to load the cheap Windows-only software onto it while the other parent is still asking why their computer is continually slowing down and having reoccuring costs and issues. I think your atypical excuse about growing pains is bunk.

I could go on and on, but this is my point, people need to know the software equivalents between windows and F/OSS and they need to be open to relearning how to accomplish tasks. Otherwise trying to convert someone is useless. When it comes to computer annoyances, people put up with more than Pavlov's dog.

Anonymous said...

At least you have the choice. Where I work in a large corporate environment, Mickey$oft is forced down our throats. Yes, my company uses Linux in the backoffice, running websites, etc, but desktops? Oh, heck no. I'd much rather have the choice, but I'll never get it here.

I may just have to go to work for myself...so I HAVE a choice of what desktop to run. :)

Rory Curtis said...

@warmer

Thanks for the comments warmer. I'll certainly try and get your suggestions covered in another article.